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HMS Seahorse raffle prize on show
HMS Seahorse leaving Portsmouth in 1933
HMS Seahorse had strong connections with Portsmouth

On Christmas Eve 1939, the crew of HMS Seahorse met at the Astley Arms in Blyth, Northumberland.

Europe was at war and the the submariners would have been in high spirits ahead of being called back to patrol the North Sea.

The crew bought raffle tickets in the pub and Petty Officer Leonard 'Tug' Wilson won a bottle of whisky.

As he was unable to take the liquor on board, the landlady offered to take care of the prize until he returned.

PO Tug Wilson
PO 'Tug' Wilson won the bottle of whisky ion the Christmas raffle

But that was the last time Tug would see that bottle, as HMS Seahorse never returned from the mission in the North Sea.

The family of one of the crewmembers, who live in Portsmouth, have spent decades trying to discover how the sub was lost.

Routine mission

Built in Chatham in 1931, it was the 10th Royal Navy vessel to bear the name HMS Seahorse.

The s-class submarine left Northumberland on Boxing Day 1939 on a routine mission.

The brief was to patrol enemy waters of the North Sea and report back the locations of mines and warships.

The survey area was to be off the west of Helgoland, a German island. From there they were to travel to the mouth of the Elbe River before returning to Blyth on 7 January 1940.

"The idea was to build up a picture of the enemy's intent," says George Malcolmson, archivist at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport.

"They would have been sent right to the edge of the minefields to map them and report back" he said.

Lack of information

To this day, very little is known about how the S-Class submarine was lost.

Newspaper cutting
Landlady Lydia Jackson kept the bottle safe for 32 years

It is assumed that because the patrol was in hostile waters, it was an enemy mine that did the damage.

John Marshall from Southsea was just three years-old when his father, also called John was lost on HMS Seahorse.

Now 73, John Jnr. has spent most of his life piecing together the story of how his father and his crew-mates died.

He said his family were kept in the dark for years. "My mother passed away never knowing how her husband died".

"The Admiralty never even told her that his sub had sunk" he added.

"The patrols they were sent on were top secret" he said. "The family never knew where he was".

John is still finding new information about Seahorse, and now believes that PO Tug Wilson was his father's best man.

But George Malcolmson is not giving up hope of finding the answer to Seahorse's fate.

"The North Sea is littered with submarine wrecks" he said. "Maybe the wreck of Seahorse can be located and identified to give families closure".

The label on the bottle
The bottle of whisky was labelled so it was not sold or the contents drunk

Radio Silence

It would not have been unusual not to have heard from the sub for days at a time.

"Even the shortest reports back to the base could be intercepted" said George. "Subs would make periodic reports but would mostly maintain radio silence."

Retired submariner Jim Onions agrees.

"It was a risky business" he said. "You had a job to do like anyone else, except you were in a sub out at sea".

Jim Onions next to HMS Alliance
Jim Onions served for many years on HMS Alliance

The crew would have spent a lot of time together, even on land.

"Thoughts of disaster never crossed your mind". said Jim, who is now a tour guide at the Gosport museum. "[You think] I'll just get over this hangover, go to sea, then come back and get another one".

The first indication that something was wrong was on 7 January 1940 when Seahorse was due to return.

A message requesting an escort back into port should have been sent. No such message was received. After a further week, the 39-strong crew was listed as "Missing presumed lost".

Museum Piece

As for the bottle of whisky, it remained in the Astley Arms, untouched until landlady Lydia Jackson retired in 1971.

Mrs Jackson donated the bottle of Johnny Walker Old Highland whisky still with the original label showing the prize-winner's name, to the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport, where it has been on display since.

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